Resident Evil has been kicking around for a good number of years now. The first game, which appeared on the original PlayStation, was an instant hit, lauded for its use of tension and zombies. The game also introduced us to the evil Umbrella Corporation, and spawned books, movies, and more video games. At around the Resident Evil 4 point, it left its horror roots and went more action-y, culminating in the strange mess that was Resident Evil 6. We still enjoyed the remake of the first game (reviewed here), but we were excited to get our hands on Resident Evil 7, rumored to have its return to the original’s creepiness. Did it? Let’s peek around the corner and find out.
Resident Evil 7 takes place some years after Resident Evil 6 and occurs in the present day. It follows the story of Ethan Winters who is in search of his wife, Mia, who went missing three years ago. A bizarre video message from Mia leads Ethan to Louisiana, to a ramble-shambles old house out in the sticks, slightly left of center of nowhere. A little exploring lands Ethan within the clutches of the terrifying, cannibalistic Baker family, and from there it’s all Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hills Have Eyes with touches of Saw and Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and bits of Blair Witch Project.
From the opening moments of the game, you can see that Resident Evil 7 has most definitely gone back to its creepy, horror-filled roots. Unlike its predecessors, Resident Evil 7 takes a first-person perspective, clearly drawing on modern horror mechanics from games such as Amnesia and Outlast. This is far more pronounced in the game’s opening hour or two (depending on how much courage you can muster to keep going forward). The fact that Ethan is not a squad member, is an ordinary civilian, and has to work alone also heightens the tension to a tightly-wound degree. There’s a certain point in the game, however, about the point where you’re given more free access to weapons and ammo that the tension eases off a bit. Being able to blast something in the face—even if it’s just to stun them while you scurry past—is a huge release of the fear valve.
The game is graphically beautiful. Too beautiful in some places, and that uncanny valley dip is still there with many of the faces of the people around you. The environments are gorgeously detailed, and the way that Ethan interacts with the world around him adds to the level of realism, which in turn adds to the tension in the game. The amount of stuff that had to be rendered and modelled with this level of detail is nuts, and not just a little bit impressive, and it’s all been crafted to give you that sense of disquiet and unease within you. Adding to all of this is the game’s level design, which has been finely crafted to give you the creeps in the best possible way. The dilapidated house is full of blind corners and closed doors and dark nooks and crannies that can hide things. It’s deliciously claustrophobic, and the amount of light you have is less comforting than light should reasonably be.
It wouldn’t be a Resident Evil game if there weren’t some secrets, and the game hides many of those all over the place. The first time you play, you’re probably too busy pooping your pants with terror to even start looking, but slowly you’ll start finding things hidden here and there. One interesting aspect of the game is the VCR cassettes that Ethan can watch. The video sequences are playable, but the fun part is that stuff you do while playing the sequences affects the future where Ethan is. Not all of the puzzles are this devious, though, and many of them are fairly easy to figure out. Heck, the game offers you a number of the solutions well before you even get to the puzzles.
While Resident Evil 7 is a darned creepy piece of work, it definitely has points where it falls down. The easy puzzles is one, but the boss battles are the biggest example of this. There’s little to no tension involved with them, and it’s pretty much a case of putting bullets into them until they keel over and die. Where’s the fun in that? This ruins the immersion in the creepy atmosphere, making the game more of an action experience. Thankfully, the entire game isn’t like this, and ammo and inventory space is ridiculously limited, meaning you have to give more than a cursory thought about what you want to keep and what you feel you should toss out. Another minor issue I have is that game feels more tangentially related to the rest of the series than a core part of the story. Yes, there are the nods to the series here and there but for people playing this game with no prior experience? You’re going to miss all the little references that make you feel like it’s a living, evolving entity. That you need to shoot in the face.
Like the game’s graphical design, the sound design is likewise excellent, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been tempted to play a game with the sound completely off. Things creak and bang and groan in the creepiest way possible, making you hesitant to go forward. And the doors! I have a brand new hatred of doors. That feeling of “something behind this door is going to eat me” is so clear with every door in the game, and there are a LOT of them.
While the game is playable in VR, we do not possess a VR unit to test this feature. I hear it’s excellent, if a little dizzying and leaving people prone to nausea. Aiming is done by moving your head, and I understand that this makes for the definitive way to need a new pair of pants.
I am a huge fan of horror games, and if you enjoy being scared, then this is definitely for you. Resident Evil has absolutely come back around to the feeling of creep with Resident Evil 7. You need creepy? This game has it by the truckful. Just be sure to stock up on spare pants.